The minimal use of cinematic space and time exemplifies the layered metaphors of Fences, the gradual building of which organizes the action of the play, keeping the family members in and others out. But at key moments, especially in a bit of magic realism near the end, the POV soars beyond the home. The camera elegantly frames the actors as they declaim, becoming an unseen third player in their scenes, assisted by the exceptional sound recording and editing. The extras (local residents in period costumes) that populate the street scenes could have stepped out of the home movies and pictures of Charles "Teenie" Harris, the African American Hill District photographer whose work comprises a rare archive of images of the social world of Pittsburgh’s black communities. The art direction overall features layered surfaces, hues and textures of peeling paint, brick walls, leaves and brush and crisscrossed lines of hanging laundry that evokes the artwork of another Pittsburger, the painter and collagist Romare Bearden, who was a seminal influence on Wilson.
After seeing a book of Bearden's works (The Prevalence of Ritual, 1977), Wilson felt that he was “looking at himself.” He wrote: “What I saw was black life presented on its own terms, on a grand and epic scale, with all its richness and fullness, in a language that was vibrant and which, made attendant to everyday life, ennobled it, affirmed its value, and exulted its presence. It was the art of a large and generous spirit that defined not only the character of black American life, but also its conscience… In Bearden I found my artistic mentor and sought and still aspire to make my plays the equal of his canvases.” The critic Joan Fishman has compared Wilson’s improvisatory sounding dialogue to Bearden’s assemblaged images: “one hears . . . the repartee of jazz in the carefully orchestrated quick dialogue exchanges.”
You talkin to me??
Yes I am! And you can read more in the January/February issue of Film Comment on sale now!